This Gym Fights Addiction With Exercise

20 million Americans are dealing with substance-use disorders.

The Phoenix, a workout space in downtown Denver for people recovering from a variety of substance-use disorders, is giving folks who struggle with addiction a new lease on life.

The center, free to use for those who have been sober for at least 48 hours, offers CrossFit and other fitness classes as well as biking and hiking adventures. Founded in 2006, The Phoenix was created by 33-year-old triathlete and former addict Scott Strode after feeling the benefits of fitness for his addiction recovery.

“I immediately felt like the judgment of what I could do was dropped. Me being there was enough,” Whitney Mielke, a recovering addict and Phoenix patron, tells Outside Online. “I’ve always set these really unreasonable expectations for myself and then beat myself up when I don’t achieve them. To have somebody really proud of me for showing up and trying, that was a big deal for me,” she says. “That gave me the motivation to keep trying.”

Dopamine floods the brains when using drugs and alcohol and as a result, the brain will start to crave this “good time” feeling. Heavy drinking can lead to a drop in dopamine levels which can lead to even more drinking, as a means to boost one’s mood and “chase the high.” When they refrain from using, addicts can feel depressed or anxious- this is where fitness comes into play.

Exercise has been proven to reduce cravings for booze and cigarettes, and can lower stress anxiety levels– all traits found among those experiencing withdrawal from addiction.

“When people start moving, they start to feel more confident. They feel a sense of mastery,” Doug Jowdy, a former addict and counselor and sports psychologist in Denver. “Exercise is one of the most powerful interventions.”

Since its 2006 launch, The Phoenix has spread to 20 communities in 13 states. More than 26,000 people have experienced the program leading to similar gyms opening like Salt Lake City’s Fit To Recover and NamaStay Sober in Boston.

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